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The real success stories in direct selling are as much about personal growth and self-improvement as they are about business. Take the story of Mary Kay Ash as a perfect example. Born in 1918 in Hot Wells, Texas, Ash went from housewife to door-to-door saleswoman to cosmetics mogul all in the span of about 25 years.
“I was really not all that good at the beginning,” Ash, who died in 2001, once said of her early days as a saleswoman for the venerable Stanley Home Products, “but in one year I went from a seven-dollar Stanley party average to the queen of sales. That is the thing that started me off on the road to success. I kept trying to improve and improve and improve so that I would be better.”
That drive to improve, to strive for better, can turn a wallflower into a leader and, on rare occasions, a leader into a legend like Ash. What lies between Point A and Point B for these people? Personal development—the practice of bettering oneself through greater self-awareness and self-knowledge—is the key.
In conversation after conversation, direct selling leaders—corporate executives and independent salesforce members alike—point to the importance that personal development has played in their work and in their broader lives. As they share their insights, they point to common themes like the changing perceptions of leadership, self-discovery realized through team-building, the power of mentoring and the emergence of nontraditional methods to unlock doors to personal growth. What’s clear is that the drive toward self-actualization remains as fundamental as ever to one’s ultimate success in the direct sales channel.
The explanation for this essential, yet basic, connection is at once both simple and profound: Personal development isn’t a perk of the job, nor is it a means to an end. Self-development is fundamental to one’s success because it’s simply another way to describe becoming the person you were meant to be. Personal development is not something we appreciate along the path of life; it is actually the path itself. Embracing this conclusion creates opportunities for executives to imbue their company cultures, both internally and toward the field, with empowering training and policies.
Scentsy Co-Founder and CEO Orville Thompson has told DSN, “At the end of the day, helping people become more of themselves, helping them identify who they really are inside and to reach their full potential is what direct selling is all about.”
Certainly there are benefits and perks to be enjoyed along this path. For example, the typical independent representative often comes to direct selling without any prior entrepreneurial experience. Stumbles are inevitable. Qualities like resilience, discipline, focus, time management, optimism and adaptability are all crucial to the ability to pick yourself up, brush off rejection and disappointment and keep going.
“At the end of the day, helping people become more of themselves, helping them identify who they really are inside and to reach their full potential is what direct selling is all about.”
— Orville Thompson, Co-Founder and CEO, Scentsy
Connie Tang, President and CEO of Princess House, the kitchenware and home décor company based in Taunton, Massachusetts, ties the ethereal ideas about developing as a person and a leader into the concrete reality of building a business when she says, “The whole aspect of working to build a business by way of building people… that, in and of itself, is about personal development.”
The Evolving Concept of ‘Leader’
A core tenet of personal development is the notion that anyone can—and everyone should—unleash the leader within. Emotional intelligence may not be measurable in hard numbers, but presence makes a profound difference in one’s ability to succeed.
And mentorship—whether formal or informal—is an extremely powerful tool for helping anyone regardless of position cast the vision, set ambitious goals and stretch beyond self-perceived boundaries. In fact, a true leader is always a mentor as well, whether intentional or not.
“Real leadership is about building other people and shining your light on them, not on yourself,” says John Addison, CEO of Addison Leadership Group, in his 2016 book Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose. “It is the kind of leadership that not only works, but also has lasting impact.”
Leadership has a lot less to do with one’s title or position and a lot more to do with interpersonal skills. This is an awareness that appears to be growing in the wider world, although within the channel many have always known this to be true. The whole concept of being a field leader stresses leadership through accomplishment rather than by means of a title.
“Real leadership is about building other people and shining your light on them, not on yourself.”
— John Addison, CEO, Addison Leadership Group
In September 2017, AMA Enterprise, a division of the American Management Association, released the findings of its research into key trends influencing the current landscape of organizational training and development. Among those factors is the realization that the meaning of the descriptor “leader” is broadening.
“A majority of large organizations now consider individuals to be leaders based on their impact, not on their authority or position,” the AMA Enterprise report states. “Increasingly, a leader is viewed as ‘anyone, whether they manage others or not, who is a top-performer in their specific role.’ ”
Of course, this definition aptly describes many field salespeople, whether they manage teams of their own or are stellar individual performers. The report also indicates that soft skills also are moving up on the priority list, as organizations come to understand the value of emotional intelligence, including qualities like communication skills, self-awareness, empathy, self-regulation, social skills, conflict resolution and more.
It is unarguable that a company’s success or failure hinges on its ability to develop strong field leaders who make their impacts and leave their marks primarily with those same soft skills listed in the report. Inevitably, where you find that leader, you will also find a deep commitment to personal development. Mark Pentecost, co-founder and CEO of It Works! told DSN last year, “When we encourage personal development it just raises up new leaders.”
“No matter who you are, what you are, what your background is, what your socioeconomic level is, personal development can be obtained. It’s achievable for any individual who wants it.”
— Connie Tang, president and CEO, Princess House
This evolving concept of leadership seems to suggest a movement toward the need for greater focus on the whole person rather than simply equipping someone with this or that skill set. This certainly supports direct selling’s enticing prospect for any aspiring entrepreneur: There’s a leader living within you, and joining forces with us may be your best opportunity for unleashing your latent capabilities and creating the life you want.
Just as there are no boundaries to joining a business opportunity, Tang says the same is true of personal development: “No matter who you are, what you are, what your background is, what your socioeconomic level is, personal development can be obtained. It’s achievable for any individual who wants it.”
The Power of Mentorship
The most rigorous requirement of personal development is that it requires introspection—a challenging exercise for most people. Having access to someone willing to propose an alternative or inspire an honest look in the mirror may be all it takes to jump-start introspection, and therefore, growth. The practice of mentorship can provide just such opportunities, and it may come as no surprise that mentorship has grown substantially in popularity over the years throughout corporate America.
A study conducted by the American Society for Training and Development found that 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies identify their firms as having formal and informal mentorship opportunities; and 75 percent of executives credit their mentors with helping them reach their current positions. As employees navigate the political waters of the workplace, a mentor can be an invaluable resource.
In today’s workforce, millennial workers apparently seem to crave mentoring. According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 63 percent of millennials say their leadership skills are not being fully developed. It also found that those who say they plan to remain with their current workplace for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor.
When it comes to mentorship, the direct selling community is well ahead of the curve. Obviously, field leaders mentor and lead their teams, which can range from a handful to scores of individuals. In fact, mentorship is one of the richest personal development resources a direct selling business has to offer. A new representative has immediate access to a mentor (her recruiter) and often an entire community of peer support. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to forge connections with mentors all over the country, or even the world.
Personal development isn’t a perk of the job, nor is it a means to an end. Self-development is fundamental to one’s success because it’s simply another way to describe becoming the person you were meant to be.
The mentee-mentor relationship is mutually beneficial and supports personal development on both sides. Mentees have a safe space for asking questions, seeking feedback and learning about their organization from a different perspective. They learn to set goals while they grow their network, strengthen and expand their skill sets and develop greater confidence. Mentors, meanwhile, experience the personal satisfaction that comes from “paying it forward”—coaching others while they sharpen their own leadership skills.
“You see one person lifting up and providing information to another person, and then someone else comes along and adds on to that. I think it’s a very dynamic and new way to think about personal development,” says Jane Creed, president and CEO of Napa, California-based Wine Shop At Home, a direct seller of artisan wine brands. “It’s very peer-based. It’s not only leaders, but people who have just begun in the business, and they can enrich one another.”
Tang has always been a firm believer in sharing her knowledge with others, due in large part to the influence mentorship has had on her own life. “Growing up in the New York City public school system as an immigrant,” she says, “my parents weren’t fluent in English. They weren’t educated here, and my mom didn’t even graduate high school. I looked to aspirational teachings, learnings, role models as a way to validate how I was feeling as a transplant.”
“[With mentoring] you see one person lifting up and providing information to another person, and then someone else comes along and adds on to that. I think it’s a very dynamic and new way to think about personal development.”
— Jane Creed, President and CEO, Wine Shop At Home
When Tang was in third grade, her family moved from a tenement on the city’s Lower East Side to Brooklyn; they’d finally saved enough money to buy a home. At the same time, Tang’s third-grade teacher, Mrs. Wrynn, was opening her eyes to other possibilities.
“She was the first person who for some reason told me she believed I could do anything. I’d never heard that. She was very free and liberal with her recognition, which is very anti-cultural for traditional Chinese families,” Tang says. “It was extremely scary, because it’s also so different from your own family and what you’re being told at home. But she helped instill a level of confidence in me as I learned to adapt and form my own sense of self. She changed my life; she really did. I’m still close to her today.”
Cindy Monroe, founder and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based accessories company Thirty-One Gifts, points out that the mentoring experience can also be very informal, and in a sense “caught” by the consultant from other leaders in the field. She recently told DSN, “Personal development is really important so that she gains perspective, and as she sees other women being successful, she says ‘if they can do that, I can do that.’ ”
THE FUTURE: BEST PRACTICES
The road to self-actualization, according to the entrepreneurs we interviewed, may be best experienced by keeping in mind the following considerations:
Be open to change. The speed at which technology continues to evolve—which, in turn, affects salesforce preferences—requires alertness and a willingness to make changes to information delivery systems as needed.
“We have to meet people exactly where they are, and that has never changed,” says Traci Lynn Burton, founder and CEO of Traci Lynn Jewelry in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “The moment we forget that or we think that our own method is the only way, that’s when we lose.”
Respect cultural preferences. Knowing your audience is key. Almost 90 percent of Princess House consultants are Hispanic, Spanish speakers, and prefer face-to-face training. A team of customer-service employees recently traveled to Houston to provide local consultants with technology training, coaching and encouragement as the city continues to rally back from Hurricane Harvey.
“We have to meet people exactly where they are, and that has never changed. The moment we forget that or we think that our own method is the only way, that’s when we lose.”
— Traci Lynn Burton, Founder and CEO, Traci Lynn Jewelry
“What’s wonderful is that they eventually become ambassadors of personal development on their own,” Tang says. “There’s immense value in that—a whole lot more than us preaching at them.”
Don’t make it a requirement. Personal development is most effective when it’s purely voluntary. The natural leaders will seize the opportunity to grow, develop others and lead the way. Truly there is no substitute for a self-motivated leader.
Stay inspired yourself. As with any other aspect of leadership, employees and salesforce members alike have to model the behavior they expect from their teams and keep up their own personal journeys toward greater self-development.
“If I only give to the field, who’s giving to me so that I can continue to give something to them?” Burton asks. “You can’t give what you don’t have. I don’t give from emptiness; I give from overflowing. I have to have what I need to continue the journey.”
Direct selling is most often described as being all about relationships, and certainly growing in self-awareness and self-knowledge only enhances those relationships. Engagement on this personal level sustains our channel even more than the wide variety of products and services available within it. Indeed, combining a people-oriented opportunity with a personal development opportunity is only natural.